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Wise prepares for 2018 Legislative Session

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Wise's speech to Chamber touched on several important topics

By Zac Oakes

 

The 2018 Kentucky General Assembly Legislative Session convenes on Jan. 2, and as State Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) is preparing for the coming year’s 60-day session, he spent last Thursday speaking to the Campbellsville-Taylor County Chamber of Commerce about the upcoming session.

While there has been discussion for weeks about whether Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin would call for a special session to deal with the state’s pension issue, Wise said it seems as if that window may have passed, and the legislature will look to deal with the pension issue during the regular session.

“My opinion is that it is now too close to call a special session,” Wise said. “I know the governor has said that window is still open, but I believe that window closed back in November.”

Bevin, however, has not ruled out the possibility of a special session in advance of the regular session. He left open the possibility during an interview with Louisville radio host Terry Meiners last week.

Wise said he has tried to talk to as many people as possible within the 16th District—which spans seven counties—about the pension issue the state faces, and he recognizes that it is a very serious problem. He said his town halls across the district have had large turnouts where constituents have been vocal about their concerns.

“We have to get this fixed,” Wise said. “And it is my job to fix it. If we don’t, we will find ourselves facing bankruptcy in this state in six or seven years.”

For those who think Wise will always align himself with Bevin’s agenda—specifically on the pension issue— since they belong to the same party, Wise said that simply isn’t the case.

“There are times that I will disagree with the governor,” Wise said. “I’m not always going to be a yes man. I’m not always going to do what the governor wants. That is why we have separate branches of government.”

As for the upcoming legislative session, Wise said he sees it as being the most challenging session he will encounter in his young legislative career.

With pensions, budgets, and other items on the agenda, Wise said there are going to be difficult decisions made during the 60-day session.

“We are going to make some hard decisions that will affect state agencies across the board,” Wise said.

The hope, Wise said, is that they will be able to deal with the pension issue early in the session and then begin the process of working on the budget, which Wise said will be one of the top priorities among legislators.

“We hope to be able to get through that the first couple weeks of the session,” Wise said.

With revenue shortfalls exceeding $100 million, he said there will have to be discussions during the session about how the state can raise revenues.

“We aren’t raising revenue like we should be,” he added.

That means tax reform will be a topic legislators will take a hard look at, and while it may not come this session, Wise said it is something that will have to be examined moving forward.

“We have some tax laws that are antiquated, that have been there since the 1940s and 1950s,” he said.

Among potential ideas: eliminating the state income tax and raising the sales tax, a model that is used in Tennessee. Tennessee eliminated the income tax, and according to Forbes, has a combined state-local sales tax rate of 9.46 percent. Kentucky has a statewide sales tax rate of 6 percent. 

Wise said that although tax reform is a controversial topic, he believes legislators need to address it, even if it means having consequences on Election Day.

Another topic that has been floated is legalization of recreational marijuana, an idea Wise said he is firmly against.

“I do not agree with that, and if that means I end up going home, then so be it,” Wise said. “I will not lose my moral stance on issues such as this.”

Wise said legislators very well could be looking at medicinal marijuana in the future though.

Other topics that legislators could take a look at outside pensions and budgets include Marsy’s Law, which aims to extend rights to crime victims, including the right to legal standing, protection from the defendant, notification of court proceedings and restitution, among other things.

“We think this is an issue that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on,” Wise said. “It isn’t really a partisan issue, and it is one of our top criminal justice items we will look at.”

Another piece of legislation that will be examined is moving elections to even-numbered years in Kentucky. Currently, statewide elections such as those for governor are held in odd-numbered years. These are the only odd-year elections in the state.

The legislation would be a constitutional amendment, which means the citizens of Kentucky would be able to vote for or against the measure. Moving the elections to even years could save the state around $3.5 million by some estimates while also saving individual counties money every four years.

Kentucky is one of only five states nationwide to hold odd-year elections.

Proponents of the idea tout the money saved as a reason to support the move, as well as the idea that it could increase overall voter turnout due to the fact that even-year elections tend to have as much as 20 percent higher turnouts.

In the last odd-year election, only 30.6 percent of registered Kentucky voters casted ballots for the governor’s race, while in 2016, 59 percent of registered voters casted ballots in the U.S. presidential race.

“We know that we tend to have larger turnouts on presidential election years,” Wise said. “And we think this could be a way to save taxpayer dollars on elections with this.”

Opponents argue that the move was made to try to increase the number of down-ballot races, which opponents argue favors the Republican party as the state electorate has skewed more toward the GOP in recent elections.

One effect of this bill would mean that, if passed, the state officers elected in 2019 would serve five-year terms as opposed to four-year terms.

Other items Wise mentioned included welfare reform, pharmacy legislation involving reimbursements for Medicaid, and an anti-terrorism law called “Andy’s Law.”

“Andy’s Law” stiffens state criminal penalties for acts of terrorism and creates a civil cause of action empowering victims of terrorism to sue in state court those who provide material support and aid those who commit acts of terrorism, according to the Center for Security Policy.

Kinship Care involves providing a monthly stipend to relatives who care for children removed from homes because of abuse or neglect, and the issue has gained more recognition because of the increased number of drug arrests. Wise said this, too, is an issue they hope to be able to examine.

While the opioid epidemic continues to cause major problems in the state and across Wise’s Senate district, he said they will do what they can in Frankfort, but legislation is not the only way the problem can be fixed.

“We cannot legislate ourselves out of that,” he said.

But before Wise broke down the legislative agenda, he opened up about the recent sexual assault allegations in Frankfort, saying it has been a very difficult month as a legislator.

“The last three weeks to a month have been the most disappointing, most embarrassing, and most frustrating times you can experience as a legislator right now in Frankfort,” Wise said. “And I mean that because we are sent up there to do your work, and to see what has been happening, it’s very disappointing… I campaigned on integrity, moral responsibility, and transparency. You deserve that in your elected officials that you send to Frankfort, Washington D.C. and those locally… I appreciate the faith you have in me to do the job you elected me to do.”

Wise also spoke on the need of respect among people, especially on social media, and referenced the unexpected death of Rep. Dan Johnson, the 49th District representative who took his own life last week in the wake of sexual abuse allegations.

“Prayers go out to the wife he leaves behind and the children he leaves behind,” Wise said. “As soon as that happened, there were social media statements made that celebrated this man’s suicide. The comments made were disgusting. We’ve got to a point where it’s much easier to be a troll on social media and beat people down. Not to say that Rep. Johnson may have had faults, and we will see those faults from the investigative report that came out [referencing an investigative report from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released early last week]. We know that there are bad things there, but at the same time, it gets down to human decency, and I think we are beginning to lose some of that human decency, and I pray we get it back.”

The Kentucky General Assembly convenes on Tuesday, Jan. 2.